The Turkey. Crispy, golden-brown skin, mouth-watering fragrance filling the air, and meat so tender and juicy it falls right off the bone. To put gravy on this turkey would be an insult.
Of course, everyone has their own secret turkey recipes. Some turkey recipes brine the turkey, some use a deep fryer, others a beer can suspended upright inside the turkey itself while it cooks, to really seal in that flavor. Another route can be slow-cooked turkey recipes. It’s tricky, get it wrong and you’ve either got a cold, pink, underdone mess or a dry and tasteless bird more suited for jerky than cranberry sauce. But get it right, and the family will rave, beg for your secret, and spirit away as much of the leftovers as they can!
Grandma’s turkey recipes say one hour in the oven at 350 degrees for every five pounds of bird. At that rate, a little ten pound hen can be done in a couple of hours, while a twenty or thirty pound “turkzilla” could take all day! The slow-cook actually starts the night before, but requires so little attention that everyone can get a great night’s sleep, and Thanksgiving Day dinner can be served in the early afternoon, with plenty of time for seconds before the game. It’s surprisingly flexible too, accommodating stuffing, no stuffing, basting, breast-down roasting, flavor additions, medium weight twelve-pounders all the way up to the biggest behemoth that will fit in the oven.
Around 8 to 10 pm the night before Turkey Day, after making sure that the turkey is completely thawed, complete all usual preparations. Stuff the bird if desired, brine or butter or inject with herbs and spices, and put the turkey in the oven with a cover or a foil tent at 350 degrees, for one hour. That’s right, just one hour, two if you’re feeling especially nervous over an extra-large turkey. Then turn the oven down 170-250 degrees, depending on the size of the bird. Just hot enough to keep the bird from cooling off. Now, walk away. Go to bed. Get that beauty sleep. (The batteries in the fire alarms were all checked last week, right?)
By morning, nostrils will be twitching and bellies rumbling at the tantalizing scent of perfectly roasted turkey that fills every room of the house. Once the ravening hoards have had their coffee and doughnuts, take the temperature on the bird. Remember that a turkey has to cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees before the good old U.S.D.A. says it’s safe to take out of the oven. Some prefer to remove the bird at 150 degrees for a juicier result, but with the slow cook, it tends not to be necessary. Just keep the desired “done-ness” in mind for the rest of the process.
An hour or two before dinner is to be served, remove your foil tent and turn that oven back up to 350 degrees. Give the turkey a quick basting if desired. This will finish off the last bit of roasting and give your bird that beautifully browned skin that sets off the garnishes so nicely. Remember to watch the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh, as well as in the middle of the cavity if you’ve stuffed your bird. Once the guest of honor is thoroughly cooked, let the turkey rest for twenty minutes or so before bringing it to the table, just to give those lovely juices time to soak into the meat properly. If you’re concerned that your work of art might cool off too much during that little nap, give Mr. Turkey back his foil cover while he waits, and use the time to finish off the yams, gravy, or whatever other final bits and pieces haven’t yet made it to the finish line.